THIS TIME on Film Torments, Dan looks at another fucking monster movie.
Reading back on my notes for this film is not a pretty sight. There are a lot of question marks, even more exclamation marks and enough swear words to light a fire under Al Swearengen. I was also unsurprised. It’s as Asylum as Asylum gets: Lake Placid vs. Anaconda is a bang-typical monster mash-up catastrophe that’s more concerned with firing cheap shots at its own inadequacy than crafting a motion picture. It qualifies as a film by passing the barest technical definition – it is indeed a series of images played in sequence – but it’s pointless to call this anything other than what it is: Yawnsome, milksop drivel.
This will all be familiar to aficionados of The Asylum. For those who are as yet unaware of this direct-to-video studio (or racket), The Asylum have made their dubious name on producing so-called ‘mockbusters’ by the dozen – shameless imitations of popular blockbusters that piggy-back off high-budget success. (I’m not sure what The Asylum’s actual market is but I’ve always liked to think it’s exclusively confused grandmothers: Thwarted in their attempts to buy little Jimmy a Christmas present at the local Poundland, they come out with Transmorphers instead of Transformers.)
Imagine my horror, then, to discover that the film was not produced by The Asylum at all, but was, in fact, produced by another company altogether – UFO International – to premiere on the SyFy Channel. Disregarding the fact that absolutely no one was clamouring for a Freddy vs. Jason-style clash between the beasts of the Lake Placid and Anaconda franchises – and also disregarding that SyFy originals are completely interchangeable with The Asylum’s products – we’re left with a film that simply exists. It has no statement to make. It has no ideological impetus. What it does have is Robert Englund yelling, “Where’s my damn money?” (Englund appeared in Zombie Strippers, by the way.)
Really, it’s pointless to review the film itself. It’s a collection of the same horrendous slasher stereotypes, with hideous CGI for the monsters and a character being introduced by an unbroken, five second-long shot of her breasts. There’s not a whole lot of the camera-winking chicanery of your average Sharknado and, cripplingly, what little humour exists subsides into tiresome over/under-acting and the awful visuals. In all fairness, a giant crocodile does upend an anaconda into helicopter blades, but this harkens to the fundamental problem with films like this: The entertainment comes almost exclusively from the monster-on-monster action promised in the title, and non-Kaiju films so very rarely deliver.
It’s not that the film plays proceedings straight; putting aside the fact this would be nigh impossible, LPvA topples over itself trying to be a comedy. Half the film is comprised of unbearable slapstick (fat people fall over and eat shit!) and the other half is waiting for the snake and the croc to show up, let alone fight. 30 whole minutes pass without a peep from either of the titular beasts, and the vacuum is filled by a parade of disposable cretins gawking at empty space. The one exception is Tiffani (Laura Dale), whose pantomime bitchiness (“What the fuck are you doing, beach bitches?”) is expertly pitched by Dale and provides the one beacon of non-monster delight in the entire film.
Sharknado and its sequels understand this conundrum, for all the problems I have with them, but it is an example seldom followed in their contemporaries. Films like Lake Placid vs. Anaconda, whether for budgetary reasons (ha) or otherwise, keep the monsters largely offscreen. When they are onscreen, they’re usually separated until the final ten minutes, where a climactic battle that’s meant to explode the bubble of anticipation inevitably fizzles out with no clear winner.
These films actively hinder audience satisfaction. The entire purpose of the genre is catering to audience desire to watch giant monsters wreck each other’s shit – A.K.A., the Kaiju sub-genre in Japan – but the films consistently refuse to let this happen. LPvA is no different to Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, or anything else of its ilk – it’s disposable trash designed specifically to be disposable trash, but it’s not even very good at that.
But is this phenomenon any less terrible, cynical and exploitative than, say, the likes of Troma Studios or Roger Corman, whose films are made on no budget to exploit the attentiveness of a specific demographic? Is my affection for Corman or Lloyd Kaufman as misplaced as the apathy I feel for The Asylum? I think the difference is informed by the distance of time – the outdated aesthetic of 80s features like The Toxic Avenger or Little Shop of Horrors makes them cornily endearing, and the plastic fakeness of low-budget CGI is eye-rolling. They were also generally more willing to cater to audience expectations.
I’m not sure whether this is entirely or universally the case – the practical effects of many cheap slashers in the 80s are wretched, and they films as a whole just as manipulative and terrible as Roboshark – but it’s fascinating to think that a good deal of films like Night of the Demons and Starcrash have a loyal cult following, as opposed to the tumbleweed apathy given to Lake Placid vs. Anacdona. It’s a piece of shit, obviously, but I wonder how much of a double standard we apply to older crap in the process.